The Cypher: Black Male Empowerment Conference inspires hundreds of young students

Scores of young Black male students experienced a life-changing day at Durham College (DC) on May 25.

400 students in Grades 7 to 10 from the Durham District School Board (DDSB) visited the Oshawa campus for The Cypher: Black Male Empowerment Conference. DC was proud to host the event, which is designed to provide Black boys with the knowledge and resources to overcome systemic barriers and achieve their full potential. Attendees met and learned from entrepreneurs, community leaders, educators and other role models.

The full day of activities included speeches, a community networking market, science experiments, engineering simulations and more. There was also fun to be had with basketball, sketching and a jam session. Workshops covered a wide range of subjects, from physical fitness to money management. The students also had the chance to get to know DC by touring the campus and exploring a range of programs and opportunities beyond high school.

The day’s master of ceremonies was a prime example of The Cypher’s life-changing potential. De-Mario Knowles attended the event as a Grade 9 student in 2019, where poet Randell Adjei was a guest speaker. Inspired, Knowles developed a passion for poetry and public speaking.

“The Cypher really helped me lay the foundation that allowed me to thrive and reach where I am today,” he said. “As a Black individual, it’s nice to see that there’s an event for people like me to develop their skills, and network with people, and see that they matter and their characteristics are beautiful.”

As the event got underway, a number of guest speakers addressed the students, including DC’s chief administrative officer, Dr. Scott Blakey. Though their messages differed, they all recognized the limitless potential in the young Black men.

“Some of you are makers, all of you are doers, many of you are dreamers,” said Camille Williams-Taylor, DDSB director of education, who emphasized that everyone in the audience was in a supportive and welcoming space. “Each of you is a genius. Some of you haven’t realised your genius yet, but your genius today, in this space, is assumed. You do not have to prove it.”

A highlight of the day was a Q&A with keynote speaker Boi-1da. The Grammy-winning record producer enthralled the crowd with stories of working with Drake, Rihanna, Jay-Z and more of the biggest names in music. But the Toronto native acknowledged his humble beginnings, and stressed that the path he took to success is open to anyone who works hard and believes in themselves.

“Nothing is unrealistic,” he said. “Whatever it is that you’re passionate about, stick to it. If you don’t love what you’re doing, and if you don’t put your all into what you’re doing, you’re not going to get the results.”

With plenty of opportunities ahead of them, DC might see some of the students again when they begin their own post-secondary journeys in the near future.